Harpreet and Mohinder Chadde have had enough – they have been victims of alleged cargo and vehicle thefts, three times in the past year.
The owners of Talhan Transport, a small company based in Mississauga, they are reeling, financially and emotionally.
“How can we survive?” asked Mohinder Chadde during an interview with Road Today.
The couple have been in trucking since 1996, and started the company in 2005. Of late, their efforts to grow the business have been stymied by falling freight rates, cut-throat competition, unavailability of reliable drivers and now, theft.
The latest incident happened Dec. 20, the last day of work before Christmas. Harpreet Chadde and her husband had barely left the office, when someone alerted them of the theft.
“We left the office at 4:53 p.m. and at 4:58 p.m. my truck was gone,” she said.
That means they were being watched by the criminals, Harpreet Chadde said.
She said the thieves took the tractor because they wanted to steal a trailer somewhere else.
Police were informed as the couple rushed back to their office.
“It was Friday night. I called the cops. They said it may take two-to-three hours. I waited for the cops here in the office until 10. After that, I went home. Nobody came,” said Harpreet Chadde.
Later that night, following a tip, the couple tracked the truck down to Malton, about 20 km from their office.
“We asked the police to come and release the truck to us,” said Mohinder Chadde.
But they were “way too busy”.
Police also advised the couple against attempting to recover the vehicle on their own, warning that would amount to potential theft.
Around midnight, someone went back to the truck, heated it up for about 20 minutes and drove away as the couple sat in their car and shot a video of the crime.
“They stole it right in front of us,” said Harpreet Chadde.
Cops came to their office the next morning and left after taking notes.
Two more harrowing days would pass before the couple would recover their truck, dumped in Malton.
By then the Volvo had been driven 350 km, was on the Express Toll Route twice for which Talhan received an invoice, and wasn’t the truck they saw the last time.
One fender and the grill were broken, the fridge and the heater were ripped off the cab. In all, the losses were estimated at more than $16,000 with Talhan on hook for $5,000 in insurance deductible.
The couple said they had been penalized for no fault of theirs.
“And I don’t know how much the insurance will go up by at renewal,” added Mohinder Chadde.
The first burglary at the company site happened in March 2019, and lasted almost five hours. A gang of four came and tried to open the truck and trailer, but was unable to do so.
“Then they called a mechanic… Yeah, I have the surveillance of everything,” said Harpreet Chadde.
The thieves could not find anything, because the trailer was empty. Frustrated, the gang left with whatever tools were in the truck, she said.
Talhan doesn’t keep any loaded trailers in the yard for safety reasons.
The company is C-TPAT compliant, which means voluntary enrolment in the U.S.-led Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism program. Members are eligible for streamlined inspections and shorter wait times at the border.
That made no difference to the thieves, though.
Harpreet Chadde said police have told trucking companies that they are operating in a high-risk area.
“If you guys know it is a high-risk area, then why not implement something to stop the thefts,” she asked.
“A target-rich environment.”
Former police officer Mike Proska quoted from the 1986 Tom Cruise-starrer Top Gun to describe the situation in the Peel Region, where cargo crime has been a major problem for years.
“So, where there’s going to be a high volume of goods, that equates to a high volume of opportunity,” Prosca said.
He runs the private investigation agency Burloak Investigative Services, based in Burlington, Ont.
Proska spoke to Road Today in late March when Ontario was ramping up efforts to stop the spread of Covid-19.
In the third week of March, he said, there were four cases reported to his company alone.
“They just steal non-stop, no matter what’s going on,” said Proska.
Peel, comprising Brampton, Mississauga and the Town of Caledon, has in recent years emerged as the trucking capital of Canada.
Along with the fame has come notoriety — as the ground zero of cargo theft.
But it has been making progress steadily, with Peel Regional Police reporting a substantial reduction in cargo and vehicle thefts last year, when they registered 173 cases.
That is sharply down from 341 in 2018, but still a lot.
“I always say that cargo theft is the seed money,” said Todd Moore, another former police officer.
“It is that seed money, or the profits made from cargo theft, that help fund other criminal activity like drug importation.”
Moore should know.
He is vice-president of cargo theft and specialty risks at ISB Global Services, a Milton, Ont.-based company that provides investigative services.
He said more profits are made from the trafficking of drugs than from commodities or real estate.
Moore said there are dedicated groups that handle each step of the operation, which is modeled like a business undertaking.
“They have storage warehouses. They are almost like, you know, Costco or Walmart where they have a variety of different products… They have brokers and a distribution system… It is like a logistics company.”
The No. 1 reason why cargo theft is such a problem in the Greater Toronto Area is that the GTA has one of probably the most unique landscapes for organized crime groups, Moore said. The Peel Region is part of the GTA.
“You got traditional organized crime groups, you got Eastern European organized crime groups, you got Asian organized crime groups, South Asian organized crime groups… all actively involved in cargo theft.”
Another reason, Moore said, is the easy access to one of the biggest airports in North America – Pearson International – and to the 400 series highways.
Proska, of Burloak, said there are probably at least half a dozen crews or quasi crews – investigative lingo for criminal groups – operating throughout Ontario.
“We often see a crew or two from Quebec coming into Ontario and do thefts here as well, and then take the goods back into Quebec.”
Ironically, Peel and the neighboring York Region have dedicated units to fight cargo thieves.
Moore, however, acknowledged that there is a lack of deterrence as well as loopholes in the justice system that the criminals are taking advantage of.
He said if someone is caught with a couple of keys of cocaine that person will end up in jail for up to two years, but if someone is caught with a trailer load of stolen goods, there are a number of factors that prosecutors have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt in order to get a conviction.
“And at the end of the day, cargo theft is by definition a property related offence so chances are unless the thief has a horrendous criminal record he probably is not going to do jail time for the offence if caught which causes a lack of deterrence.”
Moore also said that police are facing budget restrictions in the fight against cargo theft as they have to prioritize their focus amid a multitude of different types of criminal activity.
Still, Proska doesn’t see any enforcement issues in Peel.
“They have probably the best enforcement team in the country as far as trying to catch and put away all these cargo thieves.”
Burloak offers services that cuts investigative red tape sharply, he said.
“As soon as a cargo theft is reported by one of our clients, we commence our investigation. We basically put boots on the ground the minute we are notified.”
First line of defence?
Moore thinks the best and easiest way to put a dent on theft is placing GPS trackers in every trailer.
He calls GPS the first line of defence, but less than 15% of trailers in Canada have GPS devices on them.
“And then secondly, that’s great to have a GPS, but you need a mechanism to get that information to the police in real time.”
Moore’s company offers that mechanism via a platform called PULSE, helping mitigate the problem.
He said PULSE was developed to assist three stakeholders affected by cargo theft — insurers, transportation companies and police.
One of the most effective tools in the platform is the PULSE Escalation service, Moore said. When an alert is received, ISB’s Crisis Response Centers quickly perform a notification, validation and escalation process.
“If the alert is deemed valid, then our operators call the police agency jurisdiction, using our national law enforcement database of 37,000 police agencies.”
Moore said the general public considers cargo theft as a victimless crime.
“When you peel back the onion, cargo theft is more than a property crime. It is an organized crime problem.”
By Abdul Latheef